Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Many decades ago, straight shaving was one of the services most frequently performed in a barber-styling shop.
Today, however, the use of a straight razor is in danger of becoming a lost art. This is due partially to the wide use of safety and electric razors, and also to the fast pace of today's society.
There are still barber-styling shops where shaves are available for those who wish them. Usually these are either full-service, luxury salons or the more traditional, established shops where the service has been offered for many years.
The art of shaving requires a great deal of attention, skill, and consistent practice.
The objective of shaving is to remove the visible part of facial and neck hair without irritating the skin. Although there are certain general principles of shaving which apply to all men, there are also certain exceptions that need to be considered. The texture of the hair, the grain of the beard and the sensitivity of the skin to the razor edge, shaving cream/soap, hot towels or astringent lotion.
Curly facial hair has its own inherent characteristics that may cause problems if the shave isn't performed correctly. All too often, ingrown hairs are the result of improper hair removal by a razor, tweezer, or trimmer. Curly hair has the tendency to grow in a "looped" direction and as it grows out of the skin, it can bend back into the skin surface. Excessively close shaving, coupled with excessive pressure, with either clippers, trimmers, or razors can damage skin to the point that new hair growth is trapped under the injured tissue. This can result in infected bumps on and under the skin surface, scar tissue, or a keloid condition.
A proper shave is composed of many individual steps, they all fall under the general classifications: preparation, shaving, and finishing.
Lathering the face serves to clean the face by dislodging dirt and foreign matter, soften the hair and hold it in an upright position and create a smooth, flat surface over which the razor can glide easily. Using a hot towel (steaming) on the face helps to soften the cuticle or outer layer of the hair and provide lubrication by stimulating the action of the oil glands. Hot towels should not be used when the skin is chapped or blistered from the heat or cold. The correct angle of cutting the beard with a straight razor is called the cutting stroke. To achieve the best cutting stroke, the razor must glide over the surface at an angle with the grain of the hair. It should be drawn in a forward movement with the point of the razor in the lead. The beard should be shaved with the beard growth (not against it) in the following order: side-burns/cheek bones, neck sides, middle of neck, upper and lower lip areas, then finally the chin. This shaving order allows the lather more time to soak into the thicker beard hair of the next shaving area. The razor angles can range from a 90 degree angle from the skin to a more aggressive 30 degree angle. I encourage you to start shaving with a more forgiving angle of around 90 degrees.
Things to remember
To avoid cutting yourself, never move the razor in a cutting motion parallel to the blade edge.
Be very careful to never hit your razor on the sink, faucet, etc. as this could permanently damage the razor and make the razor extremely dangerous to use.
Strop the razor before each shave. Those people with thicker hair may also need to strop several times during a shave session to retain the razor edge.
Take your time. Hurrying through a straight razor shave is not a good idea.
From my extensive experience, the average edge on a properly honed razor will last anywhere from 2 to 6 months depending on many variables such as beard type, frequency of shaving per week, stropping and shaving technique. Someone with a very coarse beard will blunt the edge faster as opposed to someone with a very soft beard and using the same razor every day will also shorten the lifespan of the edge at a much faster pace compared to using the same razor only twice a week. When it eventually starts pulling or tugging while shaving you'll know it's time to have it honed.
Use cold water to thoroughly rinse your face after each shave. You can use a mild astringent (Dickerson's or Thayers Witch Hazel), aftershave splash, lotion or balm. This final step will protect and sooth your face. It will also help from becoming irritated.
Always rinse both your shaving brush and razor and allow your razor to thoroughly dry before storing it away in an enclosed container or area. The best way to dry and store your shaving brush is upside down (bristles down), hung onto a brush stand.
Most of the best available razors are made of carbon steel and if not cared for properly will rust. One can use mineral oil, camelia oil or any other rust preventive product by applying a thin layer after each use. Always make sure the razor is totally dry before applying anything.
I personally like to leave my razor in the open position after cleaning and drying. That way I'm sure there is no humidity left between the scales. Make sure there are no children or pets that can accidentally get hold of the razor.